Sometime in the next nine months, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in June Medical Services v. Gee, a major Louisiana case that could shape the future of legal abortion in America. The case does not technically threaten Roe v. Wade: Louisiana and its supporters have not asked the Court to formally overturn Roe (the decision establishing women’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy). Instead, they have provided the Court with several different avenues for limiting abortion rights—largely by overruling cases other than Roe or limiting them so they are practically meaningless.
The Court seems interested in taking up Louisiana’s invitation, since the Court chose to grant the state’s petition to consider these additional arguments in its decision to hear the case. The briefing in the case provides a glimpse into how a ruling for Louisiana could allow states to end legal abortion without overruling Roe—and also allow the Court to test the waters on whether to ultimately overturn Roe.
June Medical involves a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of where the providers perform abortions that is identical to a Texas law the Court invalidated just three terms ago. In its brief, Louisiana first asks the Court to “narrow” and “limit” that recent decision, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. In that case, the Court held that lower courts must determine that an abortion restriction actually advances a valid purpose—protecting women’s health and safety—and not merely hypothesize that the law might serve such a purpose. And the Court additionally clarified that lower courts must weigh the benefits a law offers against its burdens, and that Texas was wrong to say that women were not burdened if they lived farther than 150 miles from an abortion provider—the distance to an abortion provider that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held did not unduly burden women’s ability to obtain an abortion.